Judging by the number of vacant seats in Melbourne's Recital Centre on Friday night Steve Nieve Plays Elvis Costello is a difficult concept to sell. Not for this long-term Costello fan, of course. Not, for that matter for Hughesy's brother, who probably wouldn't recognise a Costello song if it came up and bit him in the leg. But he was impressed. So was I.
But, judging by the number of empty seats in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, we must be talking a very tiny niche market. Or something else that would draw off punters. Or inadequate or ill-directed publicity. Maybe they'd all stayed home to watch the AFL semi-final between Sydney and North Melbourne. Or something.
Steve's keyboard work has, over the years, been one of the main ingredients in the Costello sound, And the "Joanna" segment, when the Spinning Songbook picked it out, has been a regular highlight of those musical extravaganzas. "Joanna" invariably signals a spell on the grand piano, which is what we were looking at here (predictably, a Steinway). The segment usually includes She, which didn't seem to appear here, Shot With His Own Gun, which did and provided one of a number of highlights, and God Give Me Strength.
As one of my all-time favourite Costello numbers, you'd reckon Hughesy would have picked up on it if it was played on the night, but Steve did a rather good job of camouflaging some of the selections. The Astute Reader will no doubt pick up on that by the unidentified numbers in the set list.
Some of the selections listed only appear because Steve identified them by name and narrative.
Or maybe that's it. Maybe there's no market, or no interest, in reworkings of Costello material into grand piano extemporisations. Anyone looking for a by the numbers reproduction of the Costello catalogue would have been extremely disappointed. But from the opening strains of Muriel on Main Beach through to the end of Beyond Belief we got a good hour and a half of pianistic pyrotechnics. It was a performance that underlined the fact that the former Royal College of Music could probably have gone on to a fair career as a concert pianist.
There's a bit more to it than that. According to one of the monologues that interspersed the musical selections Steve always wanted to be in a rock band, though the news that their eighteen-year-old son had become an Attraction apparently reduced his parents to tears. He was also the choir master or organist at the local church, and familiarity with the draw bars on a Hammond organ allegedly helped get him the keyboard job ahead of the competition.
But, in the end, it all comes down to what was played, and the performance had Hughesy kicking himself at having skipped Brisbane and Sydney. Perth was probably a bridge or Nullarbor too far, but repeated exposure might have allowed me to fill in some of those question marks in the set list.
In summary, an excellent performance by a master of his art. More please, though one notes the extreme unlikeliness of a repeat performance in Melbourne.
Among the links below, on the other hand, there's a mention of an official release of recordings from the Australian tour (and possibly elsewhere. I'll be buying...
Muriel on Main Beach
The Birds Will Still Be singing
Accidents Will Happen
The Loved Ones
The Long Honeymoon
Shot With His Own Gun
Welcome to the Voice
Beyond Belief (request)
Five note improvisation (C,F,A, B flat, F)
Five note EC themed improvisation (D, D, F, E, C)
The Attraction Of Steve Nieve
Melbourne Fringe review: Steve Nieve Plays Elvis Costello
Performing Arts Hub
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Monday, May 5, 2014
Ask the average listener for the names of the most influential English rock acts of the early sixties and they'll probably rattle off three names: The Shadows (with or without Cliff Richard), The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I'd like to respectfully submit a fourth. Johnny Kidd & The Pirates.
The Argumentative Reader might, of course, be inclined to dispute that last suggestion. That's in his/her nature, and the key element in the counter argument would probably be along the lines of limited commercial success, pointing to a single #1 hit in Shakin' All Over and a relatively slim discography (a mere sixteen singles listed in the Wikipedia entry here) between 1959 and 1965.
But let's look at those other candidates for a moment.
The Shadows were, admittedly, huge at the time, and prompted any number of would-be Hank Marvins to take up the guitar. You can, for example, cite the early Neil Young in The Squires and early recordings like Aurora and The Sultan.
But once you get past the actual era you tend not to hear too much that's obviously Shads-influenced. Or I don't, anyway.
In a commercial sense The Beatles turned the conventional wisdom of the early sixties on its ear, set the stage for much of what followed and lead the way through the sixties as far as combining an evolving experimentation in writing and recording with commercial success. We will never see their like again because we'll never see those times (and their antecedents) again.
But, over time, that leading the way fades into widespread, albeit very significant, background influence.
And The Rolling Stones were, at least at the start of things, The Anti-Beatles. I'd concede their ongoing legacies as the outrageous showmanship we've come to associate with rock stars (not that they were the first in that department) and a significant influence to the continuing genre I've tagged teenage noise, that glorious racket you loved as a kid because it got right up the nose of (and was incomprehensible to) everyone older than your age group peers.
So, why Johnny Kidd & The Pirates?
Simple. For a start, singer out the front, guitar bass drums behind. Not two guitarists, none of this lead and rhythm bit. One guitarist. Follow that template and you've got, among a multitude of others, The Who and the early Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart out front (who were, of course, the prototype for Led Zeppelin). You can add any number of similar outfits after that, but the most significant in this regard are, of course, Dr. Feelgood.
According to legend The Who were a two guitar outfit up until the time they opened for Kidd & The Pirates (Townshend: They were a truly tight band, achieving a powerhouse sound with just lead and bass guitars and drums. We decided to go the same way, Roger allowing me to take over on lead guitar so he could concentrate entirely on singing. That's lifted straight from his autobiography, where he goes on to describe Pirates' guitarist Mickey Green's influence on Townshend's emerging technique).
Remove the singer and give one of the remaining trio the vocal duties and you've got the classic power trio. Start with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience and you can note any number of examples along the way, including The Jam, right up to Silverchair and beyond.
Start listing those who started out in one of those vocal/guitar/bass/drums quartets or a power trio and moved on elsewhere and you've got a whole extra stream of influenced artists.
And, of course, you've got what we're looking at here with the singer from one of the most obvious successors to Johnny Kidd & The Pirates in front of a power trio lead by one of their most significant torch bearers.
Given the backstory, of course, I was always going to buy this.
The January 2013 announcement that Wilko Johnson had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer was one of the things that set me off to re-investigate the Dr. Feelgood back catalogue last year. That exercise rekindled a long-standing affection for the Canvey Island quartet that had me picking up a copy of Oil City Confidential, Julien Temple's 2009 Dr. Feelgood doco, and learning of this collaboration in the process.
Going Back Home dates back to a chance encounter at the 2010 awards ceremony where Johnson and Daltrey found themselves seated next to each other and bonding over a mutual admiration for Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. A collaboration was apparently mooted at the time, but seems to have been one of those things that would be tackled at some point in the future. The cancer diagnosis delivered a sense of urgency. With Johnson well enough to press ahead with the project when The Who finished a world tour the album was recorded in a week in November 2013 at Yellow Fish studio at Uckfield in East Sussex, near Daltrey's home.
Behind the guitar and vocals, Johnson's touring band of Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe were aided and abetted by Mick Talbot on piano and Hammond organ and Steve Weston's harmonica
The selection of material was a pretty straightforward exercise, with Daltrey happy to have a go at singing whatever Johnson threw at him, and Wilko obliging with a selection of ten Johnson originals covering the Feelgood era and his subsequent solo career as well as a cover of Bob Dylan's Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
From the start of Going Back Home, the song Johnson co-wrote with Pirates' guitarist Mick Green for the Feelgoods' Malpractice it's familiar ground with Johnson's trademark choppy riffs intersecting with the Daltrey growl in a meat and potatoes exercise in prime British R&B. Ice on the Motorway and I Keep It to Myself follow before a glorious reading of Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? Subtle it ain't but, boy does it rock!
Turned 21 drops things back a notch, but things gradually kick back up through Keep On Loving You, Some Kind of Hero, Sneaking Suspicion, Keep It Out of Sight and Everybody's Carrying a Gun before things wind up in an entirely appropriate manner with Johnson's ode to the Canvey Island oil refinery (All Through the City).
With eleven tracks on an album that nudges the scales at just under thirty-four and a half minutes there might be some inclined to quibble about length, but for mine it's just about right. You really don't want this stuff delivered in massive doses, keep it short and sharp, a series of short arm jabs rather than a lengthy pummelling.
You might, if you're inclined to be picky, take issue with the recording too. It's a crystal-clear rendering of Johnson's stabbed chords. Muddy might have been better, but this is a high-definition portrait, entirely appropriate when you're talking what amounts to an epitaph.
It's also entirely appropriate that the album appears on Chess, the former home of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. One suspects the only thing that could have enhanced a magnificently worthy collaboration would have been to record it in Chicago. On the other hand, while 2120 South Michigan is still there and, apparently, still operational, you can't beat the convenience of operating close to home in an environment where you're not working with the ghosts of blues men past looking over your shoulder. In the end, given the circumstances, it's all about convenience, and the only thing that matters, in the end, is what is delivered.
On that basis Going Back Home is a fitting way to wind up a remarkable career, a project that underlines the remarkable and often forgotten legacy of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates who were, after all, the inspiration behind The Who, Dr. Feelgood and so many others.
Monday, April 28, 2014
It's mighty close to fifty years since New Orleans session musician and songwriterMac Rebennack relocated to Los Angeles, where he subsequently reinvented himself as Dr. John the Night Tripper. The departure came as the result of substance-related issues with New Orleans District Attorney Big Jim Garrison, who'd set out on a moralistic crusade to clean up the Crescent City and there was a significant musical diaspora that had coagulated around Harold Batiste in Los Angeles.
That new persona was largely an avenue to create an earner to support his fellow exiles, most of whom have passed on, and when you dig back over the man's biography there's a definite feeling that he's lucky to still be among us, and coming up towards age 74 a degree of frailty should come as no surprise.
And, for the first part of an hour-and-a-bit set that frailty seemed fairly evident. The figure who appeared after an enthusiastic introduction shuffled to the keyboards and ran through a couple of fairly obvious suspects (Iko Iko and Didn't He Ramble) before venturing onto the recent discography for a couple of numbers that gradually picked things up. Goodnight Irene, however, rocked quite magnificently, and things definitely took off with a moody reading of Walk on Gilded Splinters.
You didn't quite get the mists rising off the bayou, and the ornate architecture didn't actually start sprouting Spanish moss, but both phenomena weren't far away.
And having kicked things in towards overdrive the vibe continued through In the Right Place, Let the Good Times Roll and Big Chief before Such a Night brought the Doctor's set to an appropriate finish. Took a while to get going, sure, but from midway through things were just fine, and I, for one, was grateful to have been there for it. Walk on Gilded Splinters was just magnificent, one of the very best things I've seen or heard in a long time.
It's also close to fifty years since Aaron Neville's Tell It Like It Is delivered a hit that was, effectively, his bread and butter until the Neville Brothers shot to prominence. The passage of time, one might expect, would have taken its toll on that distinctive vocal tone, and while he's just a tad lower these days the melisma and vibrato are still there.
But it's a voice that needs breathing space, which it gets with the fraternal outfit where the four Neville Brothers share things around in the vocal department. Here, with brother Charles sharing a bit of the spotlight with some moody saxophone and a rather decent bunch of instrumentalists around him there was room for a breather or two, and he actually got to leave the stage during an impressive run through an instrumental that might not have been Caravan, but if it wasn't it was an almost identical twin.
A glance down the set list will reveal an interesting selection from what has become a reasonably extensive back catalogue, covering most of the obvious bases, very much the Aaron Neville set I'd have wanted to see if I was seeing him once, though I would have liked something else from My True Story in there.
Excellent band, front man in pretty good voice, slightly one paced, perhaps, but that's what he does, and he does it rather well.
Having been to the same venue for Elvis Costello & The Imposters the night before there was an interesting contrast in the demographics. The Dr. John/Aaron Neville crowd was noticeably older, and significantly less cross-generational and given the selections of material probably unlikely to change. One suspects that, should the opportunity to see either of them again in an hour and a bit setting neither set list is going to change all that much, which explains a conclusion that I'm not likely to see either of them again.
One wouldn't anticipate either of them making their way to Townsville or Mackay, and while they're both likely to be back in the country for Bluesfest, opportunities to catch them will depend on what else is going on around whatever times they're playing Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. Given the excuse to be in any of those centres around the time they're playing the possibility is there but it's not as if I'm tempted to see them at every opportunity because I know there's likely to be something very interesting on the set list each night.
Dr John & The Nite Trippers, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014
Intro: The Doctor Is In
Iko Iko > Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me
Didn't He Ramble
Kingdom Of Izzness
Getaway > Guitar (St James Infirmary)
I'm the Big Shot
Cotton fields > Goodnight Irene
Walk on Gilded Splinters
In the Right Place
Let the Good Times Roll
Such a Night
Aaron Neville, State Theatre Sydney 24 April 2014
Instrumental intro: Besame Mucho
Stand By Me > Cupid > There Goes My Baby > Chain Gang > Stand By Me
Bird on the Wire > Free as a Bird
Everybody Plays the Fool
I Don't Know Much
Don't Go, Please Stay
Ain't No Sunshine
This Magic Moment
Three Little Birds > Stir It Up
A Change is Gonna Come
Down By the Riverside
Tell It Like It Is
At the risk of sounding like some been there, done that, got the t-shirt, wrote the book, waiting to star in the movie type, I have to say that the most interesting aspect of the fifth Costello and The Imposters concert I've caught since early December came before and after the actual concert.
That says more about Hughesy and the circumstances in which I live than it does about Costello but it says a fair bit about the man as well as quite a lot about the way popular music has morphed over the past fifty years.
All of which is interesting, at least from where I'm sitting.
Actually, sitting is a key factor in the experience this time around, since Elvis had a significant section of the crowd up, out of their seats and down in front of the stage very early in the piece. It was fairly obvious he was playing to, and feeding off the enthusiasm of, those right under his nose, which might affect your perception if you were one of those disinclined to stand who happened to have a seat towards the front of the stalls.
That was me, more or less, but the occupants of the seats at the end of Row L had headed for the front so it was easy enough to move to the side for an uninterrupted view of proceedings.
So you might have been underwhelmed if you weren't down towards the front, and you may well have been underwhelmed by a show that was slightly shorter (twenty-five numbers, as opposed to thirty-plus from the recent Spinning Songbook shows in Japan) than others you've experienced, or by a set list that was light on for a few of the usual suspects that seemed to be automatic inclusions in the Spinning Songbook roster, or by what you might see as a relative dearth of obscurities, or...
But you pays your money and you takes your chance, as the saying goes, and while what you'll get isn't always totally, like stellar, man, you won't get a performance that's phoned in, either. It all comes down to the interaction between expectation and on the night, doesn't it?
Cast an eye down the set list and you'll note a significant (five out of twenty-five) presence of Wise Up Ghost material, which might interact with some of those absences noted previously, but it is the current album, even if it isn't the current album by this band. What is interesting, as it has been since the first of the Spinning Songbook shows in Japan is how well those songs work with The Imposters rather than The Roots. Despite the fuss about Wise Up Ghost it wasn't quite the departure from previous form that some people painted it to be. I'll point The Dubious Reader towards When I Was Cruel and Cruel Smile and rest my case.
No, a good two hours, an interesting set list that didn't seem to hold too many surprises and a performance that was as committed as he almost invariably is. That almost invariably is based on eight experiences, none of which went anywhere near obviously phoned in.
And you expect a bit of variation when you're looking at an act that isn't pre-programmed. Compare a Costello show, any Costello show, to, say Leonard Cohen, who I've seen deliver close to the exact same show live (three years apart, and substantially the same as the Live in London DVD) and you know you're going to get variation. The question is how much is delivered, and how much you expect.
Consulting my Costello show song matrix (eight shows, 116 items) there were a couple of songs I hadn't encountered live before (Watch Your Step, Stations of the Cross, Blame it On Cain) as well as the heartfelt Jesse Winchester tribute (Quiet About It, Payday) and another seven that I'd only encountered twice, so I walked out a very contented punter, thank you very much.
But when it comes to looking back on the evening the rendezvous with The Pope of Pop and the early-twenties Popelet Twins will figure large in the memories. I've run across Popey before each of the three shows I've caught in Sydney, and a couple of pre-show beers at The Marble Bar isn't quite a ritual but could definitely head that way.
They've changed the backstage access arrangements at the State Theatre, which has effectively put the kibosh on Costello stalking activities and affected the post-show discussion, but what we had, with Hughesy, Popey and Papal offspring gathered around a table in what my learned colleague has described as sort of like the Vatican in pub form was an interesting mix of musical generations.
I go back to the halcyon days of the mid- to late-sixties. Popey doesn't quite go back that far but had older siblings with similar musical interests who did (from what I can gather) and seems to have been fairly thorough in giving his offspring an interesting musical experience along the way. They were eight or nine when they got their first dose of live Elvis, and obviously don't mind fronting up for more.
I don't get to hang out with too many folks with similar musical interests, and when I do they tend to be people from more or less the same generation, so the presence of a couple of well-informed and appreciative youngsters is bound to be something memorable.
Particularly if they're sufficiently well-informed (or polite enough, take your pick) to agree that an Easybeats/Purple Hearts tour of North Queensland would have been an interesting experience and one you'd regret having missed.
It contrasted nicely with the demographic profile at the Dr John/Aaron Neville show the following night, where a youngish couple who might have been in their mid-twenties walking down the aisle towards their seats would have reduced the average age in the audience by about half a day.
All of which explains that first paragraph, dunnit?
Accidents Will Happen
Everyday I Write the Book
Watch Your Step
Stations of the Cross
Suit of Lights
Good Year for the Roses
Blame it On Cain
Come the Meantimes
Watching the Detectives
Walk Us Uptown
I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea
I Want You
Quiet About It
Cinco Minutos Con Vos
Sugar Won't Work
What's So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding
Thursday, April 10, 2014
A glance at the titles in the discography will suggest a certain preoccupation that’s reflected in descriptions of Manx as a Mysticssippi blues man though it probably wouldn’t spring to mind as you run through the African groove that drives Further Shore (co-written with African inspired Byron Bay based colleague Yeshe) and started life as an instrumental before Manx came up with the words. Take a listen to the words, however, and you’re right in that philosophical mode though it takes a while for the Indian tonalities Clayton Doley’s Hammond B3 drives things along.
The enhanced instrumentation continues through Way Out Back’s dreamy didjeridoo-driven excursion through the ancient Australian landscape, with lyrics spoken by Gunjurra Waitairie as Manx’s ethereal slide evokes the vastness of the Nullarbor and that B3 fills in underneath.
His take on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme emphasises the jazzman’s connection to Indian music (the main theme to the piece is taken from a traditional South Indian folk tune, or dhun). While Manx doesn’t attempt the whole four-part suite, using the mantra in Acknowledgement as the basis for his exploration of the piece works well as a slide exercise that ties the blues tradition to classical Indian ragas.
That exploration that continues through The Blues Dharma and All Fall Down as Manx lets the Eastern influences gradually rise to predominance. The same atmosphere continues through Saya, the atmospheric The Moon Rose Up and Carry My Tears, written for a friend who had passed on, reprised from his from his 2011 Strictly Whatever collaboration with Kevin Breit.
Reuben's Train is another return to something from earlier in his career. It appeared on Manx’s debut album (Dog My Cat) while Stay Tuned winds things up in a suitably subtle, understated manner.
There'a nothing particularly new hereabouts, no revelations or jaw-dropping moments but a few tweaks and quiet additions to Manx's sonic palette (the use of violins and other members of the string family is a first) add subtle light and shade to Manx's quiet virtuosity. While it won't jump out of the speakers and demand attention there's plenty on offer for the discerning listener, and repeated listens will deliver rewards.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Coming less than a year after the debut album, you couldn’t help suspecting there are issues with the material, but when you’re talking something as strong as Fool’s Gold, that’s not an issue. It’s very much a more of the same exercise, with Parker’s impassioned vocals leading the way as The Rumour does a mighty job of matching The Band’s example in the ensemble playing department.
A little more time might, of course, have been helpful when it came to assembling the material, but of the original ten tracks (the 2001 remaster tacked The Pink Parker EP’s Hold Back the Night and (Let Me Get) Sweet on You onto the end) the only two that might have been liable for the chop were Something You're Going Through and Help Me Shake It.
The relevant Wikipedia article cites Parker’s reservations on on one of his least favourite recordings, due to inexperienced vocal technique, rushed songwriting (see above), and stiff production by Robert John "Mutt" Lange who’d been slotted in by the record company instead of Nick Lowe, who’d looked after production duties on Howlin’ Wind.
Lange was still new at the production caper, with a handful of credits (Richard Jon Smith, City Boy, Kevin Coyne and Mallard, drawn from Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band) but went on to significant success (Supercharge, The Motors, The Boomtown Rats, The Records, AC/DC, Def Leppard, The Cars, Michael Bolton and Shania Twain) so he must have been able to get some things right. But, despite the fact that he sat in the chair for the first album by The Rumour (1977’s Max) he may not have been the best man for this job.
That’s fairly obvious when the horns kick straight in at the start of Heat Treatment, three and a bit minutes of impassioned R&B that doesn’t swing the way White Honey does at the start of Howlin’ Wind. The critics didn’t seem to mind all that much, though, and when the Village Voice compiled the critics poll of the year's best albums Heat Treatment finished second, with Howlin’ Wind coming in a very respectable fourth.
Not as much swing, but there’s definitely a bit of arrogant swagger in the Dylanesque putdown of an old lover in That's What They All Say, and while things drop back a notch for Turned Up Too Late, there’s a fairly withering assessment of a failing relationship in a cutting lyric in a song later covered by the Pointer Sisters.
Howlin’ Wind started with an upbeat and swinging White Honey, but Black Honey here is a dark, downcast, desolate outpouring of soulful emotion in bitter lands where the singer’s a face without a voice. Great melodic guitar work from Brinsley Schwarz, though.
Your mileage might vary when it comes to Hotel Chambermaid, depending on how you read the randy rooster strut. If you’re cool with that sort of thing you’ll find it spirited and celebratory, but I’m inclined towards the shuffle button. Sexist throwaway for mine, and reminiscent of a certain French politician from a few years back.
On the other hand, Pourin' It All Out is an anthemic statement of what Parker’s all about, a mission statement if you like.
And while Hotel Chambermaid, for mine, borders on the ugly, Back Door Love delivers a lighthearted strut that’s close to irresistible with a string of interesting rhymes at the start and stereo metaphors in the middle.
Something You're Going Through, on the other hand, along with Help Me Shake It, is a little too close to by the numbers proceeding through the motions. Two that mightn’t have made the cut if Parker and company hadn’t been in such a hurry. Just about anything off Stick to Me would have been a perfectly acceptable substitute for either.
But there’s no questioning the quality of the album’s concluding number. The anthemic Fool's Gold has Parker vowing to keep searching for perfection. He’s probably talking about a woman or a relationship, but you can apply the theme and the lyric to almost any search you know to be impossible, or likely to be regarded with a scratch of the head by friends and acquaintances..
The 2001 remastered reissue tacks two bonus tracks from The Pink Parker EP after Fool’s Gold, a spirited cover of the Trammps’ Hold Back the Night and Parker’s (Let Me Get) Sweet on You which swings enough to have slotted nicely onto the first album. Pleasant enough ways to pad out the length and persuade someone to shell out for the reissue, but a slight letdown after that magnificent closer.
Coming back to an old favourite after a long time doesn’t always work out the way it should, but here, having worked my way through Howlin’ Wind several times before progressing to the next, it’s obvious that advances had been made, both in terms of the writing, which has progressed towards what was to come later (Squeezing Out Sparks) and the playing, which I suspect, reflects a more collaborative approach between writer and band when it comes to arrangements. The sound is a lot fuller, and there’s a level of aggression that wasn’t there in Howlin’ Wind, which sounds subdued by comparison.
At this point Parker's still a relative novice at the songwriting caper, but there’s an increasing confidence that ties in with a degree of conviction that stood out like a beacon among the overblown likes of post-Atlantic Crossing Rod Stewart. He provided a template that was picked up and modified by the likes of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and, by the end of the second album, it’s close to fully formed.
There was, of course, still room for refinement.
What we have here is the intersection of a band looking for a front man, a singer-songwriter looking for a band and a musical environment shaped by the intersection of Bob Dylan, The Band, old school rhythm and blues or soul music, Van Morrison, the singer-songwriter movement of the early seventies and the London pub rock scene.
Graham Parker and The Rumour weren’t the only figures on this particular musical landscape and their debut album isn’t the only musical milestone that emerged from it.
Shift the balance of influences slightly, downplay the Dylan/R&B and build up the singer songwriter bit (think Jesse Winchester) and you’ve got Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers. Change London pub rock to New Jersey seaside bars and you’ve got Springsteen and Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. Put those factors into an Australian setting and you’ve got Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons and The Sports.
Together those acts represented some of the few lights on the horizon in the dire days of the disco-dominated pre-punk mid-seventies.
While Howlin’ Wind came out in 1976 to widespread critical acclaim and ended up in fourth place in the Village Voice critics poll of the year's best albums (the follow-up, Heat Treatment, ran second) it didn’t connect with the wider public and all involved ended up as also-rans despite the fact that they provided much of the template successfully employed by, among others, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and the New Wave end of the seventies punk spectrum.
The key point here is, I think, that The Rumour (Brinsley Schwartz survivors Brinsley Schwarz on guitar and keyboardist Bob Andrews, rhythm section Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding from an outfit called Bontemps Roulez, and Ducks Deluxe guitarist Martin Belmont) could definitely play, Parker could definitely write, and delivered a fine spray of impassioned vocals but the combination was never going to hit the heights unless something significant intervened.
They weren’t alone in that regard. While just about everyone cited above is still around and most of them have managed to create a niche in the contemporary musical landscape the only one who has managed to wangle his way into prominence is Springsteen, who accomplished the feat on the back of a string of marathon concert appearances between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town and the radio-friendly behemoth called Born in the USA.
But Parker & The Rumour could have been contenders, and Howlin’ Wind’s intelligent and artful blend of rock, R&B, reggae, and folk elements behind music, behind intelligent lyrics and impassioned vocals simultaneously suggests what could have been and indicates why it wasn’t.
White Honey opens the proceedings with three and a half minutes of Van Morrison-influenced bop and bounce, Bob Andrews’ Hammond crooning away to drive the groove and the horn section adding drive and punctuation. There’s a statement of intent in the soulful, brooding Nothing's Gonna Pull Us Apart and things are sweetened slightly by the swingingly infectious Silly Thing, uncharacteristically upbeat and affectionate..
But the intensity’s back for a passionate Gypsy Blood. Between You and Me actually dates back to a 1975 pre-Rumour demo session, when Parker was cutting material future founder of Stiff Records Dave Robinson could shop around the record companies. They tried to re-record it later, but couldn't match the demo, so that’s what you get folks.
Dave Edmunds sits in on guitar on Back to Schooldays, a three minute assessment of Parker's experience of the British education system and how he’d fix it if he was given the chance. There hadn’t been too much evidence of Parker’s supposedly angry young man persona to date, but it’s here in spades. It worked a treat for Edmunds too when he cut the track on the rather impressive Get It collection.
After that little statement, Soul Shoes comes across as an unremarkable but committed rocker, while Lady Doctor delivers a nice line in lighthearted carnal fun. Hardly a classic, but, boy, does it swing.
There’s a bit more intensity to You've Got to Be Kidding, a sort of half an hour later riposte to Nothin's Gonna Pull Us Apart, a cynical response to a question about longevity in a relationship delivered in a Dylanesque drawl. Howlin' Wind bristles with impassioned intent and Not If It Pleases Me is three more minutes of the same.
But the album’s highlight arrives with the reggae groove of Don't Ask Me Questions. There are reggae influences elsewhere on the album, but here they come to the fore as Parker makes it perfectly clear that he’s not the one with the answers. As a closing track to a rather good album (Parker’s quite definite about it being the best album released in Britain in 1976 in the liner notes), it’s almost perfect. He revisited it a bit later on The Parkerilla, and that version, with the benefit of a couple of years road exposure is probably better, but the prototype packs plenty of punch.
Tacking the obligatory bonus track on the end diminishes that final punch slightly. You can see why I'm Gonna Use It Now missed the cut the first time around, but there’s still commitment aplenty on display.
As an announcement of a significant talent, Howlin’ Wind delivers the goods and most of the cuts survived in the live setting, even after newer material turned up. Parker’s still not, at this point, fully formed, and not quite as angry or dismissive of fools as he became later, but it would be unreasonable to expect anything more than this from someone who was still, at this point, sorting out the nuts and bolts of his craft.
Nick Lowe’s production delivers a tough, spare bar band feeling and the result is an invigorating fusion of traditional rock from a writer with significant singer/songwriter chops, and something that would be identified around a year down the track as punk spirit.
One of the classic debuts of all time that manages to shine while suggesting significant room for improvement as a brash young man gets his direction sorted.
Friday, March 21, 2014
There are times when you know what’s coming, and this was definitely one of them. Of course, it has a fair bit to do with getting there early, which I tend to do for my own reasons, but I’d eaten down in the courtyard and made my way into the venue proper with a good hour and a half before the scheduled start when I recognised a familiar theme in the dull roar emanating from the main arena.
Familiar, yes. Fan-miliar, not so. Saturday Night Fever summarised everything I cordially loathed in the disco-dominated pre-punk era, when Bruce, along with Southside Johnny and Graham Parker were some of the very few lights on the musical horizon.
But it was definitely Stayin’ Alive, and they were definitely putting in the work to ensure they got it right, because, having done two complete side to side sweeps around the corridors I decided to grab a seat near Door Twelve and watch the parade rather than being part of it myself. That was around six-twenty-five, and you could still hear that familiar chorus, with lengthy pauses in between.
At this point, you’re forced into two conclusions. First, the show won’t be getting away on time, and Second, it’s probably going to start with Stayin’ Alive.
You didn’t need to be a genius to figure that out. In between Sydney and Brisbane Bruce had done two shows in the Hunter Valley, opening with Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee O-Dee and Spill the Wine. What they’d just been working up had been a rather tricky little arrangement, so you’d probably tend to start with it fresh in the memory banks rather than try to wing it somewhere further down the line.
We weren’t going to be starting at seven-thirty, either. Not that it was ever likely, though as I pointed out to the couple on my left once I’d claimed my seat, he had kicked off Sydney last year a fair bit before everyone had found their places.
It was comfortably after eight (8:05 or thereabouts) when the show started, which was (sort of) fine with me provided things ran long (tick, nearly midnight when it ended), and the neighbours were talkative (tick, both sides). The couple on my right were Festival Hall veterans, but Bruce virgins, so there was plenty to discuss that way, and the woman who claimed the seat on my left had been to all the shows on tour, and was progressing on to Auckland in the morning.
There was a voice in the dark thanking Australian audiences for their support this time around before a spotlight picked up an acoustic-strumming Bruce and trumpeter Curt Ramm. Well you can tell by the way I use my walk…
So we were right there. What I hadn’t entirely expected was the thunderous swagger as the rest of the band kicked in and the horn section went into overdrive, and the string section…
There, on the riser behind Max Weinberg’s drum kit was a formally dressed eight piece string section, sawing away on the violins. Students from the Conservatorium, you’d guess, more than likely on the experience of a lifetime. Not sure how it’ll look on the old classical music CV though.
Stayin’ Alive a la E Street Band hit a monster Motown derived groove, apparently got a tick of approval from Barry Gibb via Twitter, and looked set to get the farewell party well and truly under way. It was followed, semi-perversely by a quartet of songs from Greetings from Asbury Park that sort of put the kibosh on earlier theories that the first album was too obscure to get the full album treatment.
Four out of nine is close to half way. Blinded by the Light (twice last year), Mary Queen of Arkansas (not since 2009), Lost in the Flood (played in Melbourne, second show) and For You (last played Perth, 5 February) crop up in the rotation from time to time. The Angel (played just three times since 1972) is probably the only real obscurity.
So as they worked their way through It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City (great version, stinging back and forth guitar licks between Bruce and Miami Steve) and a downright funky Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street? There was an inkling of a suspicion we were getting a Greetings album show by stealth. No one around me seemed to be objecting.
There had been a fair bit of Bruce sits down to tell us a yarn action through Sydney and Melbourne, and we got it again at the start of Growin’ Up. This time around it took the form of a meditation on teenage life, sitting in a bedroom dreaming of being a superhero in between sporadic dates with a certain Mister Trusty, which is far as the sex quotient goes.
The conclusion, of course, is that it’s all part of Growin’ Up, but it left this listener marvelling at the man’s ability to come up with a fairly coherent off the cuff rap on a regular basis (if three out of four shows qualifies as a regular basis. He’s always been known for story-telling, and he’s built that into some fairly monumental ones through the roll those tapes, bootleggers era (Pretty Flamingo being one) but now that we’re in the business of selling official concert downloads one assumes he’ll be needing a new one each time he sits down.
Figuring that out is just another pre-concert task, along with all those other little matters that need attention, like spending three-quarters of an hour in the sound check sorting out Stayin’ Alive…
He was back in storyteller mode at the end, cutting back to the starter with something along the lines of staying alive isn’t that easy … how do we stay alive?’ How do you stay alive inside?
He’s building to something, and it’s fairly obvious that something is Spirit in the Night, and that was the way it turned out.
But even where you think things are getting a tad formulaic there’s room for something new. Spirit in the Night gets regular airings in concert, and where the venue configuration gives Springsteen a walkway between the pit and the rest of the floor he’ll more than likely crowd surf back to the stage as Jake Clemons wails out a carbon copy of Uncle Clarence’s sax lines.
So he does. When he’s safely back on stage, he noticed something unfamiliar in his back pocket as the percussive lead in to High Hopes starts up. It’s someone’s mobile. He’s landed a stuffed kangaroo as well, but this one’s got him intrigued. That's a first. … I didn’t feel a thing. And in true show biz connect with your audience fashion he can’t get the thing to work. He hasn’t sorted out the intricacies of his iPhone either, and he never reads instructions.
That revelation came out earlier, but it’s more than relevant here.
With someone else this bit might come across as forced or staged, but with Springsteen, as with Joe Camilleri when I saw him with the Falcons in Townsville back around ’78 there’s an overarching enthusiasm for the job at hand that’ll have most of the audience willing to suspend disbelief.
But we are talking show biz, and there’s a new album, which means you get High Hopes and Just Like Fire Would around this stage almost every night. This is where I’d like to see an actual setlist as taped to the floor before the show begins. Just to see how structured these things are, and what goes in the spaces, you understand.
Around this point, however, it’s fairly obvious that plans are likely to be going out the window. There’s a fair bit of grab the sign action, with four or five hauled in, though you can’t actually see what they are. That’s the way I remember it, anyway, typing away a fortnight after the event listening to the download.
But you know there are four or five. You’re just not sure what they’re calling for. Other shows he’ll wave one. and it shows up on the big screen. Jolie Blon, for example. Here, you can’t see the detail, but you know there’s a bit of set list shake up on the horizon.
So what do we get?
You Can Look (But You’d Better Not Touch) with plenty of Bruce/Steve mugging action.
A great Sherry Darling with Ed Manion blasting away on lead sax.
Save My Love, originally recorded for Darkness on the Edge of Town and released years later on The Promise. That’s pretty obscure. It was just too fucking happy to get on that album.
Fade Away, with the revelation that it’s Miami Steve’s favourite song and needs to be played somewhere along the line every tour to keep him happy.
And then we reach a critical turning point. It’s obvious the original plan was to run through The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, and you’d guess the string section had been called in because they’d be needed late in the piece. But the Greetings material earlier on mightn’t have gone down as well as expected, the signs are delivering an interesting mix, so which way to go?
The actual issue, and I’m being just a tad cynical here, might have been a curfew, but Bruce has been known to flout those. But it might be too late in the night to run through the album, presumably on the basis that he’d need a certain amount of usual suspects time to wind things up and send the punters away happy.
Maybe just the second side. That’d be fine with me since it’d guarantee a Rosalita. Added benefit: would mean the string section gets to come back to do the job they’d probably been hired for, assuming Stayin’ Alive was an afterthought. Yeah, we could do that, and the strings would fit in nicely, sort of thing.…
So there’s a choice. The second album, or the signs? You decide.
Now, from where I was sitting, the response to each question was pretty much the same, which is why I suspect we ended up getting the second run through the album in E Street Band history. Hard core fan heaven, and in Brisbane, of all places.
And so we’re off and running with a rousing The E Street Shuffle and a tender 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), both pretty much the way they should be. An orchestrated Kitty’s Back swings mightily, a real treat, and then there’s another. Wild Billy’s Circus Story. Bruce: Before we had horn players Garry Tallent played the tuba, and he does, since the tuba part is a key ingredient of the song. He’s a bit rusty, and who wouldn’t be. Wild Billy last got an airing in Dublin in July last year. Before that, you need to go back to 2009. (twice), 2008 (once) and a string of airings in 2005. Interestingly, according to Brucebase it wasn’t played at all between 1974 and 1990!
And then it’s time for the second side, which is, in a word, magnificent. A stately Incident On 57th Street, a rumble through Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) and the string section back out to wind things up on New York City Serenade. Put that way it mightn’t sound that good, but I’d simply point The Inquisitive Reader towards the recording and remarks on the Bruce’s Place email list that this was, possibly, the greatest Springsteen show ever. And the run through The Wild is a key part of the performance.
And, quite possibly, an explanation for what comes next. That album’s not likely to be over-familiar to much of the crowd, and that factor might have put the question mark beside the idea of doing it at all. In any case, having done it, and devoted some forty minutes to something that mightn’t have gone down that well with a fair chunk of the audience, the stops got pulled out for the next bit.
A string of guaranteed favourites, with Bruce doing the walk around bit in Darlington County, a
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day that features the bit I personally could do without but the crowd invariably love. The Rising is impassioned, The Ghost Of Tom Joad intense, and, again, Morello points to the Aboriginal flag on the shirt on that line.
The roar of the audience singalong on Badlands is as impassioned as any I can recall, a joyful, fist-pumping Glory Days gets them in again, and the anthemic Born To Run rolls majestically.
Playing through the recording again, Bobby Jean swaggers, Dancing In The Dark swings mightily, and Jake wails away through the play out that, as usual, has a good dozen people hauled out of the pit. You can hear the upswells of audience noise in the background.
But then it’s the final leg, with a Tenth Avenue Freezeout that takes Bruce through the audience one last time and a Highway To Hell that brings Eddie Vedder out on stage. He’d apparently spent the show watching from the Pit, seems, um, well lubricated, but is definitely there to have a good time. As, of course, is everybody else, so why wouldn’t he?
But the house lights are up, as they have been since around Born to Run, and there’s still time for one more.
Actually, in official terms there isn’t, but curfew time was studiously ignored a fair way back and Bruce isn’t going anywhere. He’s already done the Food Bank pitch, just before Highway, but he’s got a bit to say about the beaches south of Surfers Paradise (I’m guessing Kingscliff as the actual spot referred to) and one more track to play, Thunder Road, the last of (count ‘em) 118 songs played over eleven nights around Australia.
And it’s arguably the highlight of the four shows I managed this time around, stripped back, minimal acoustic guitar with the crowd in full voice. A magnificent end to the best show of the four.
But you can always find something to gripe about, and in this case it’s lack of consideration shown by two girls who decided to stand up during 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and Kitty’s Back.
That’s not a crime in itself, and you mightn’t have objected if they’d got up to dance. But they were right in the front row of the floor section right behind (and above the level of) the pit. It’s not like there was anything in front to block their view. No one else standing anywhere on either side. Just two inconsiderate people who didn’t give a hoot about those immediately behind them…
End of rant.
It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City
Does This Bus Stop At 82Nd Street?
Spirit In The Night
Just Like Fire Would
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Save My Love
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shufflerun through:
The E Street Shuffle
4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Wild Billy's Circus Story
Incident On 57th Street
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
New York City Serenade
Waitin' On A Sunny Day
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Born To Run
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Highway To Hell (With Eddie Vedder)
At this point we start to recognise that Bruce, or someone close to him, has a fair working knowledge of Australian rock history. Not necessarily a deep one, but with The Saints turning up in the setlist on a regular basis through Just Like Fire Would and nods to AccaDacca earlier in the tour you’d have to put a tick in the box beside general awareness.
Highway to Hell kicked off proceedings in Perth, which, if I recall correctly (and I’m not inclined to check) was Bon Scott’s home town, and they did it again to start the first show in Melbourne, another city with a reasonable AC/DC connection.
So you might not be surprised to find Friday on my Mind kicking off proceedings in The Easybeats’ home city, but it runs a little deeper than that.
There was an interview in (I think) RAM magazine where Bruce rated it as one of the all-time great rock songs, said he’d love to play it live but had a monstrous degree of difficulty in figuring out the guitar part. That would have been back in the days when guitar duties were shared between Bruce and Miami Steve, who’s not the greatest technical exponent of guitar intricacies or between Bruce and Nils Lofgren, who’s considerably more proficient.
But with (count ‘em) four guitarists available on stage and Soozie Tyrell if you happen to need a fifth, maybe some of those issues disappear.
In any case it was an ideal opener, and following it with Out on the Street, which seems to have been his attempt to have been his attempt to work the same territory (according to this interview with, of all people, Molly Meldrum, when I wrote it I was trying to copy one of my all time favourite songs, “Friday On My Mind” by the Easybeats … In my town, there was a particular place you drove to on Friday that was filled with teenagers and “Out In the Street” was my attempt at that writing about that image but with a Beatles type structure) definitely kept the vibe going, as did Cadillac Ranch. Those two aren’t exactly obscurities, but they’re not numbered among the obvious suspects for the set list rotation either.
Which is more than you can say for High Hopes, Just Like Fire Would and Spirit in the Night. The first two, however, are both on the new album, with The Saints’ cover apparently (I don’t listen to the radio) picking up airwave exposure. I could have done without either or both of ‘em, but if Bruce is going to preface Spirit with another reminiscence about something or other, that’s fine with me.
This time around it was an exposition about toilet technology he claimed to have never seen before, and the man is obviously a rather talented story teller. In any case there are a couple of aspects that spring Spirit into the usual suspects particularly, as was the case here, in a setting that allows him to crowd surf back to the stage while Jake wails away on sax. Jake wasn’t actually doing the wailing this time, having returned to the States following a family bereavement, but Ed Manion worked the same territory just as well.
Kinda corny once you’ve seen it a couple of times, but it still gets you in. Regular rituals and all that.
And when we’re talking regular rituals, with Born in the USA and Born to Run getting go to whoa run throughs in Melbourne, you’d probably figure Darkness on the Edge of Town for the same treatment here. I hadn’t really been overwhelmed by the decision to run through BitUSA, though I was probably one of a very small minority in that regard. BTR is slightly different because there are tracks there that don’t quite qualify as the usual setlist suspects (Night, Meeting Across the River) and it does have the title track, She’s the One and Jungleland.
But if I’d had to pick an album to get the treatment I would definitely have gone for Darkness. Like a shot. For one reason. Candy’s Room. But we’ll get to that, won’t we?
For all the glorification of America and things American, there’s a grimness lurking under the veneer, and we’ve got some of the same here, which makes the bookends of Badlands and Darkness as appropriate in this time and place as they were when they were written in the mid-seventies.
So we start with an incendiary Badlands, always a concert favourite, run the angst quotient up to the max with an angry Bruce guitar solo for Adam Raised a Cain and drop things back a tad as pianist Roy Bittan shines on Something in the Night.
And then there’s Candy's Room, a perfect statement of obsessive lust. Every time I hear that rattling rustle on the cymbals …
But it’s the sequencing and the light and shade that makes Darkness such a great album. After that howl of lust things drop back to everyday life and quiet despair for Racing in the Street and the reading here was magnificent, the instrumental ending stately and immaculately paced.
From there, The Promised Land offered the usual affirmation, always a concert highlight because if you’re the sort of person who goes to Springsteen shows you do believe in the promised land, don’t you. And you’ll roar out the chorus with the rest of the believers. Anticipation of hope out of despair is what it’s all about, but the frustration and mixed emotions of everyday existence are still there, as Factory reminds us.
Streets of Fire was committed and fiercely intense, Prove It all Night for my money did, especially during Nils Lofgren’s solo and Darkness on the Edge of Town wrapped things up neatly.
And to think we weren’t that far past half way through the show…
Darlington County balanced things up nicely after the intensity of Darkness, but it was a momentary thing. It did get Bruce off into the stalls eating potato chips and skolling beer but Shackled and Drawn delivers a reminder of what we’re still up against.
Which brings us to Waitin' on a Sunny Day, which, to be honest, I wish it didn’t. Sure, it’s a joyous little singalong, and you can get a certain amount of interest seeing if you can spot the kid Bruce is going to grab out of the pit to have a sing. But it’s becoming formula, and while it gives the crowd a buzz I wasn’t sad to see it missing from the first show in Melbourne.
There are probably those who feel much the same way about the Morello factor in The Ghost of Tom Joad, but it’s obvious that Bruce and Tom have a message, and it’s fairly pointed when Morello points to the Aboriginal flag on his shirt around the line about if there’s someone struggling to be free…
It’s an activist song, and played with an activist rage and intensity.
And it’s entirely appropriate to follow it with the anthemic Land of Hopes and Dreams.
That was it for the main set, but time wasn’t up yet. Take a bow, line the four guitarists out across the front of the stage, count the band into a chiming riff and watch the gradual recognition as the pincers realise they’re getting the INXS signature tune Don't Change.
Actually, you can hear the recognition on the recording, and it’s a bloody good reading. As stated earlier, Bruce obviously has a fair working knowledge of classic Australian rock.
The house lights were up for Born to Run and, for once, something went wrong on stage. The band were in full flight and suddenly the wheels fell off. Don’t know why, but Bruce called a halt, they started again, got it right and the song was followed by the announcement that it was the fastest version ever. Or words to that effect.
But they still weren’t done. There isn’t a whole lot you can say about Dancing in the Dark and
Tenth Avenue Freezeout once you’ve seen the routines a couple of times, but they get the crowd up and moving and Shout maintains the frenzy, which is what you want at the end, isn’t it?
But if that side of things seems stage managed (and it certainly is) there’s room for spontaneity.
There’s a bow, the band depart and Bruce appears, acoustic guitar and harmonica brace in place. Fine, we’re in for This Hard Land or something. Can’t be The Promised Land, that was on Darkness.
But wait. There’s a sign requesting Surprise Surprise, for Eddie, who’s just turned twenty-three, the age at which, Bruce reminisces he’d just written Blinded By The Light, noting my brain was fucking scrambled at the time. And with Surprise, Surprise we’re still not done. He hasn’t done the Food Bank public service announcement, and he’s got to play something after that to finish off.
Actually, after a remark about the song, you’d think Blinded By the Light might get a guernsey, but no, they wheel out a pump organ and it’s Dream Baby Dream, a mesmerising reading built around looped notes that gradually built until Bruce stepped away from the keyboard and let the machine do its thing as he belted out the lyrics. Stunning.
Friday on my Mind
Out on the Street
Just Like Fire Would
Spirit in the Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town run through:
Adam Raised a Cain
Something in the Night
Racing in the Street
The Promised Land
Streets of Fire
Prove It all Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Shackled and drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Land of Hopes and Dreams
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freezeout
Dream Baby Dream
In the break between Hunters & Collectors and the start of the main set one couldn’t help speculating about the possibility of another album show this time around.
As I pointed out to the knowledgeable gent on my left I could have done without Born in the USA the previous night, largely on the basis that everything on the album was so well known. Those considerations might not apply to another album, and if we were going to run through another album the question was which one.
It was, I suspected, a no-brainer. Greetings from Asbury Park was possible, with most tracks appearing in the set lists reasonably regularly. Ditto for The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Both possible, but not that likely.
Born to Run or Darkness at the Edge of Town would, on the other hand, be highly likely.
Discount The River, unless they decided to do it in two parts, Nebraska probably didn’t fit into the E Street Band setting, we’d already had Born in the USA and everything after that was, I suspected, able to be ruled out on some basis or other.
The eventual consensus was that if it was going to happen it would have to be a classic single album and, really there were only three of them. So it was a case of wait and see…
And here’s what we got:
Born in the USA, Badlands, Lucky Town, Roulette, Growin' Up, Wrecking Ball, Death to my Hometown, High Hopes, Just Like Fire Would, Lost in the Flood, Spirit in the Night
Born to Run in sequence: Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freezeout, Night, Backstreets, Born to Run, She's the One, Meeting across the River, Jungleland
Heaven's Wall, Waitin' on a Sunny Day, The Rising, The Ghost of Tom Joad, Land of Hopes and Dreams
Encore: We are Alive, Ramrod, Bobby Jean, Dancing in the Dark, Twist and Shout, This Hard Land (solo acoustic)
What we didn’t get was an official download. From what I can gather there were issues with the actual recording, which is interesting because everything sounded fine from where I was up in the nosebleeds. Better, on the run through Born to Run than it was through the early part of Born in the USA the night before. Strange.
So where with the other shows I’ve been able to sit back and relive the evening over and over, tapping away as the sound washes over, with nothing to cue the memories, the memories haven’t been coming.
Bruce hit the stage a little after everyone else, remarked he was late for my own show and the band kicked into Born In The USA and Badlands before hauling out Lucky Town and Roulette. That, from where I was sitting, looked to be pretty standard operating procedure. Two to kick things off, two for the hard core fans. Fine.
Bruce didn’t actually pull up a pew as Roy Bittan’s piano picked out the introduction to Growing Up, but he did hunker down in story-teller mode with a tale about a grandmother and a toddler who was allowed to sit up watching TV until the wee hours. Watching through The Late Show into The Late Late Show and on to The Late Late Late Show, which preceded a Superman cartoon around three in the morning.
These nocturnal habits, of course, weren’t conducive to standard sleep patterns and Bruce is able to attribute his lack of academic sense to Grandma’s failure to ensure he got to bed at a reasonable hour, Fortunately, of course, he ended up in a job that allows him to go to bed at three in the morning and get up at three in the afternoon.
So there you are. It’s all Grandma’s fault.
From there I couldn’t help feeling Wrecking Ball and Death To My Hometown had echoes of the sign request that delivered Factory the night before. High Hopes and Just Like Fire Would seem to turn up as a pigeon pair around this stage of proceedings, and there they were again. Must be obligatory to play something from the new album around here, and these two are the ones that work best.
But after that dash of predictability, if that’s what it was, you might need to change things around a bit. A sign request delivered Lost In The Flood and another monologue, this time about getting a bit in the late fifties and early sixties, frozen over lakes, parked cars and the Jersey Devil lead nicely into a swaggering Spirit In The Night.
More or less as anticipated, that led nicely into a run through the Born to Run album, pretty much a no-brainer after Born in the USA the night before. Actually, I enjoyed this one better than the previous one. Slightly more obscure songs in some places, and Bruce was going to need something other than Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freezeout and Born To Run in the run home at the end of the show. We were almost certain to get two out of those three anyway, so it was handy to knock them over a little early.
But the full band Thunder Road rocked, Freeze-out was as good as it always is, and it’s always excellent. It was good to hear Night and Backstreets was one of the highlights of the night.
There’s probably nothing you can say about Born To Run that hasn’t been said before, while She’s The One rocked its Bo Diddley beat as hard as nails. From there a stately Meeting Across The River and a stunning Jungleland demonstrated one of the good things about a non-BitUSA album show.
You get a couple of relative rarities. Pity there’s no official recording to remind me of the highlights.
And with the album out of the way it was time to shape things up for the run home and Heaven’s Wall definitely got that particular party started. We’d missed Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, with the seemingly obligatory haul up a kid to sing the chorus bit, and you can’t expect to get lucky two nights in a row. But at least it was two kids this time. Maybe he was making up for missing it the night before.
But this is more or less set piece time, and while The Rising, The Ghost of Tom Joad and Land of Hope and Dreams certainly qualify in that department you can’t knock the intensity in the performance, particularly on Tom Joad, where the live environment provides an intensity at this stage of proceedings that you can’t turn on and off in the studio.
All those critics who’ve complained about the album version missing something need look no further than that last sentence. You might take exception to Tom Morello’s guitar contortions too, but that hasn’t happened to me. Yet. After seven times. In fact, to be honest, I till rate it as a highlight.
And Land of Hope and Dreams was a fine way to round off the main set.
Now, from what I could gather, the standard practice through the rest of the tour had been to keep the thing rolling through to a single solo acoustic encore right at the end, but here, with two key agents in the formula delivered earlier, we got an actual encore break, during which, according to one report I saw, Bruce was handed a note to say the curfew kicked in in ten minutes.
Acoustic guitar in hand We Are Alive was dedicated to the spirits of the recently departed Nelson Mandela and Pete Seeger. With that attended to it was time to get the party started and there’s no doubt Ramrod, Bobby Jean, Dancing in the Dark and Twist and Shout did that.
The people around me in the nose bleeds were starting to move by this time, and the lateness of the hour suggested it might be an idea to follow suit, but there was no way I was actually leaving the scene until the last notes had been played and sung.
I was pretty close to the exit as Twist and Shout drew to a triumphant conclusion, but there were empty seats nearby, which proved very handy when it came to catching a threadbare and absolutely heartfelt reading of This Hard Land, another of the night’s highlights.
And again, we’re left bemoaning the absence of the official recording. There’s a torrent out there somewhere though. We’ll have to wait and see how the bandwidth thing pans out over the rest of the billing period.
Born in the USA
Death to my Hometown
Just Like Fire Would
Lost in the Flood
Spirit in the Night
Born to Run in sequence:
Tenth Avenue Freezeout
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting across the River
Wait in' on a Sunny Day
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Land of Hopes and Dreams
We are Alive
Dancing in the Dark
Twist and Shout
This Hard Land (solo acoustic)
Maybe it’s the statement of a jaded old cynic but I can’t help thinking the presence of not one but two opening acts in the tour’s largest venue had as much to do with the tour’s bottom line as it did with a desire to break an emerging act to a wider audience (Dan Sultan) or acknowledging a reunited musical icon (Hunters & Collectors).
News that H&C were getting back together for the Melbourne shows on the Springsteen tour probably helped sell out the first show, which in turn meant a second became a possibility, but the thirty-odd dollar differential between roughly equivalent seats in Melbourne and Sydney multiplied by the thirty-two thousand or so probably comes to a fair bit more than the two opening acts collected for their afternoon appearances.
I must admit Dan Sultan didn’t do a whole lot for me, delivering around fifty minutes of what I thought of as heavy murri thunder that rocked along but didn’t hit any peaks as far as I was concerned. I wouldn’t be going out of my way to catch his set the following night.
The Hunters, on the other hand, rocked out, hit a couple of peaks and warmed things up nicely, if warmed up is the appropriate terminology given an hour or so before the headliner hit the stage.
I’d been half expecting a repeat of last year’s setup, where Bruce’s pre-show playlist went out over the PA with Big Boss Man signalling the emergence of the Brucester, but here we had nothing over the PA with upswells of crowd noise as those in the pit sighted something that might signal the start.
Having checked out set lists from Perth and Adelaide I wasn’t that surprised to find things heading off on the Highway to Hell, and if I’d checked the Melbourne gig guide I mightn’t have been surprised to find Eddie Vedder on stage roaring out the chorus and participating in the verse action.
I saw a suggestion somewhere that it was delivered with all the zeal of an encore, but, really, that’s what you’re always likely to get at the start of a Springsteen show. Get that accelerator straight down onto the floor and don’t let it up too much unless you’re looking to add a little light and shade dynamics.
Vedder was still on stage for Darkness on the Edge of Town, which maintained the momentum nicely and once he was gone there was a second set piece in the form of a Badlands that brought Jake Clemons into the spotlight. On the recording, you can hear the roar as he does.
The recording also gives a sense of the audience involvement and having got them in the temptation would be to hold ‘em there. But it’s early on in a three hour show, and these things require some pacing, so he’s off onto a relative obscurity in the form of a gritty Seeds that rocks along mightily with a killer horn driven groove.
There’s another set piece section as Max Weinberg rides the cymbals and percussionist Everett Bradley hits the front of the stage for High Hopes complete with the old Hendrix chews the strings bit in Tom Morello’s nod solo and an audience singalong in Just Like Fire Would.
And then, for me, the highlight. We know Bruce does sign requests. Has been doing so for a while. Mixes things up very nicely, but Jolie Blon? Holy dooley!
Very obscure, very obscure! remarks Bruce as he takes the sign. The drums roll, and then they’re off into a remarkably concise reading of a track originally cut for The River and then hived off to a Gary U.S. Bonds album. Remarkably, given the obscurity, he still gets the audience singing along. Not that the chorus is difficult, you understand, but getting the best part of thirty thousand people singing along to something they’ve never heard before takes some doing.
Don’t believe me? It’s right there on the recording, as is the roar as another sign delivers Hungry Heart, followed by the crowd sing along at the start. And it’s not that far below what it was for Jolie Blon.
I could, on the other hand, have done without the go to whoa run through Born in the USA, though there were probably thirty thousand people out there who’d disagree. Depends what you’re there for, and I’m there for the surprises and the view of proceedings which is kind of difficult when you’ve got three boogieing women in between you and the stage.
There were some audio distortion issues through Born in the USA, and they’re there on the concert recording as well, but nowhere near as prominent as they were on the night.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and most of my objection to running through the album lay in the notion that it’s heavy on what you might term the usual suspects, tracks that turn up in the set list on a regular basis. Consulting my matrix, however, reveals just about everything except Dancing in the Dark, Bobby Jean, Darlington County and Glory Days has had a single airing at the seven shows I’ve attended to date.
But no one else was objecting.
There was the predictable roar of recognition as they started into Cover Me and Darlington County, and Working on the Highway kept the trio in front of me boogieing.
I’ve never really rated Downbound Train, and again I guess I was in the minority, but I'm on Fire simmered nicely and No Surrender was gloriously triumphant. Bobby Jean maintained the momentum, I'm Goin' Down went as the script suggested it should, and Glory Days was back in the gloriously triumphant singalong mode.
Which brought us to the haul ‘em up from the pit to dance on stage bit and Dancing in the Dark. It’s another one of the regular rituals that get spiced up occasionally. This time the spicing came in the form of a couple of cross-dressers in Afro wigs hauled up to dance with Afro’d backing singer Cindy Mizelle. I guess it takes all kinds, but according to Bruce it’s Only in Australia.
But if there was a highlight in the album run through for me it arrived in a beautifully austere reading of My Home Town. It also set things up for what could only be interpreted as a political statement as Bruce grabbed a sign requesting Factory for all the workers in the car industry who have lost their jobs.
We didn’t just get Factory. There was a Bruce reminiscence about his father’s days working in the Ford plant in Brunswick New Jersey back when Bruce was just a little tacker, a broadside at the reckless and greedy people who tipped the world into turmoil during the Global Financial Crisis and a meditation on the meaning of work and the importance of work in your life before calling for the song in the key of F.
After that, Shackled and Drawn came as absolutely no surprise and an impassioned The Ghost of Tom Joad worked the way it doesn’t (quite) on the High Hopes album. It usually does, but coming off what had gone before it seemed to have a little extra zing. So, for that matter, did The Rising and Land of Hopes and Dreams.
By this point, we were well and truly in the building to the climax stage of the show. Heaven's Wall continued to do that, and the house lights were up for Born to Run. Not that it made a lot of difference to band or audience. It definitely didn’t make any difference to me, not when the track was followed by Rosalita and Moon Mullican’s Seven Nights to Rock and rock they certainly did.
They were three hours into the show when they started into Rosalita, time, as far as Bruce was concerned, to get the party started. Rosalita and Seven Nights were certainly the goods in that department, and while the Tenth Avenue Freezeout video montage had the regular tribute to Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici it was a joyous celebration rather than sombre reflection.
Shout wound up the main proceedings with Bruce possessed by my 30-year-old self and invoking memories of Johnny O’Keefe (at least as far as Hughesy was concerned). There are definitely worse forms of demonic possession.
Unlike the multiple encores last time around, the end of the main set and subsequent public service announcement was followed by a single track, an acoustic guitar and harmonica solo rendition of Promised Land.
And that, boys and girls, was that.
Highway To Hell (With Eddie Vedder)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town (With Eddie Vedder)
Just Like Fire Would
Born In The U.S.A.
Working On The Highway
I'm On Fire
I'm Goin' Down
Dancing In The Dark
Shackled And Drawn
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Land Of Hope And Dreams > People Get Ready
Born To Run
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Seven Nights To Rock
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
There are, I guess, two approaches to writing a concert review, and another two when you’re looking at a run of four shows by the same artist over a relatively short period of twelve days.
As far as the review goes, you can set out to set things down while they’re fresh in your mind, or, alternatively, give yourself a big of time to reflect and analyse.
With four shows in twelve days there’d be a definite case for doing an all-in-one assessment, and another for looking at things on a show by show basis.
There are acts out there where all in one would definitely be the way to go, given a reluctance to shake things up too much, but that’s not the case with Mr Springsteen, as a glance at the accompanying song matrix might suggest.
Actually, where Bruce is concerned, there’s room for both approaches since there are common elements in a show that varies significantly from night to night.
As far as fresh in your mind versus reflect and analyse later is concerned, there are a number of factors this time around that run against the fresh in your mind option.
With a show that runs between three and four hours, kicks off significantly after the notional seven-thirty start and is followed by an hour-long trip back to the accommodation you’re not going to manage too much on the night apart from transferring your scrawled set list into a digital format. Late nights usually mean late rises, and having company with you tends to rule out too much writing activity in the morning if the someone has an itinerary of their own that needs to be attended to.
So it’s much easier to do the fresh in your mind bit when you’re travelling solo. It also helps to have the accommodation reasonably close to the venue, something that never applies when you’re talking Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
Sydney Entertainment Centre or the State Theatre, on the other hand, have very good options right in the neighbourhood, so you can spend the hour that would otherwise be devoted to the commute on recording the details.
So there are a couple of reasons for a significant time lapse between action and recollection, without the new wild card that enters the equation as far as Bruce is concerned.
Until this year you could obtain what have been termed magnetic memories or digital diaries of shows you’ve attended, but that meant waiting for a stealth taper to make their recording available and then waiting to arrange a copy of it.
Not any more. From the start of the High Hopes tour, it’s possible to purchase a digital download of most Springsteen concerts. Ideally, it should be all Springsteen concerts, but one notes the Unavailable beside the second Melbourne show.
Bruce’s Official Store notes that: There are some instances when a live show will not be recorded. The live recordings available for purchase will have the price for that recording shown next to them. Recordings will be available for purchase 2-4 Days after the show.
At $A11 for the MP3 version and $17 for the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) of a three and a half hour show that’s pretty reasonable.
It also adds another little cash cow to the bottom line, converting something that’s more than likely done for archival purposes into another revenue stream. With set lists appearing reasonably quickly and an obsessive fan base that would run somewhere around a hundred thousand copies of a show that had an interesting setlist.
And Bruce shows always have an interesting setlist, which is the reason Hughesy’s show count is up to seven.
Actually, as I’ve remarked at length in these parts and elsewhere, that count should be up around the dozen mark, or fourteen if I’d decided to head across The Ditch to Auckland.
That pales into insignificance beside the really devoted (and cashed up) fans, where the show count runs up into the hundreds.
The approach that different artists take to their set lists has been a matter of some interest to me over the years, and with Bruce it presents a particularly interesting little bundle of contradictions. For a start he manages to be, simultaneously, professional and spur of the moment improvisational.
We know there’s a setlist.
There has to be, otherwise there’d be no point in having someone tape sheets of paper to the stage in front of the spots occupied by the (count ‘em) four guitarists, bass player and violinist Soozie Tyrell. One assumes there’s something similar for the other dozen players a little further back.
And it’s probably safe to assume three more things.
The first one is that what gets taped down on the stage is an actual setlist, more than likely listing a specific sequence of songs, possibly with a question mark or a /sign after some things that aren’t quite set in concrete.
One assumes Bruce has come up with this based on some notion that serves as a mental organiser, like the album shows this time around. In any case, he knows what he was thinking when he set that out, and it’s safe to assume he’s open to flexibility if a better idea comes up or things aren’t working out as expected.
The second assumption that seems safe is that the support crew has the technology to either deliver the details of any song that has ever been done by Bruce and Band, or do that for any song after a particular point in time. You might guess that some of the really obscure early material hasn’t been documented that way. It seems equally safe to assume that there’s some form of prompt available to remind everyone about the way that one goes.
On that basis you’d figure there’s almost nothing that’s totally out of the question, but some things are more likely than others.
Third, now that we’re talking downloads there’s an extra justification for shaking things up. Not that it’s a prime consideration. Over time there’ll be some form of data about the actual patterns in the sales of downloads.
You’d guess that the four album shows from this tour would have been big sellers in that department, and since the Born to Run show in Melbourne is unavailable at the moment, that’s the most likely candidate for another album show.
Or maybe The River spread over consecutive nights.
The notion that you might shift x number of copies of an album show doesn’t mean you’re going to get one, and it doesn’t rule out album shows in the future if that album has already been done.
And the same way, it seems safe to assume that the shows that include, say, Highway to Hell, Friday on my Mind, Don’t Change and Stayin’ Alive will probably have more appeal than ones that don’t.
That doesn’t explain why they were played, but it does mean there’s a reason to throw in a new cover or dig up a genuine obscurity.
But in any case this run of four shows has made for a genuinely interesting experience and I’ll be looking to repeat the exercise next time Bruce is oiut this way.
And it’s safe to assume he’ll be back.
Two tours in two years mightn’t mean he’ll be back to make it three out of three at the start of 2015, but we know a Bruce tour down under can turn a profit, so the promoters will be happy to bring him back.
And, of course, the northern hemisphere winter raises its own issues as far as the logistics of touring are concerned.
So it seems safe to assume there’ll be at least one more tour down this way unless there’s some significant health issue or other disruptor. The big questions involve when, where and how many can Hughesy get to? Multiple nights in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth provide an excuse to head there for a couple of days, n’est ce pas?
So, over to the show by show recount.